Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I want to love Blade Runner, but the rape scene ruins it for me.

Trigger warning. And spoiler warning, since this is the internet and people will get upset about spoiling the plot of a 32-year-old movie.

I've watched Ridley Scott's landmark sci-fi dystopian noir Blade Runner a handful of times over the years. I watched it in high school and didn't really "get it." I watched it for two different classes in college, where I finally gained an appreciation for it. And I've watched the movie two or three times since then. I've considered Blade Runner one of the best films ever made, and up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the all-time most important works of science fiction.

But the past couple times I watched, one scene in particular stood out like a sore thumb. The sex scene between the main character, Deckard, and the female lead, Rachael, that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the film. Take a look for yourself (don't worry, there's no actual nudity):

The real questionable stuff starts around the 3:15 mark of the video. Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) and Rachael (played by Sean Young) share a tender moment, but Rachael becomes flustered and tries to leave the apartment. Deckard slams the door shut to prevent her from getting away, then throws her against a wall, corners her, commands her to tell him to kiss her, and has her way with her. She's crying as it happens.

Maybe I'm interpreting this all incorrectly. A quick google search for "blade runner sex scene" shows that most people on the internet are as confused and conflicted as I am.

Some people defend the scene by saying "Rachael is a replicant, so it's not rape." Considering the entire plot of Blade Runner revolves around replicants having the same emotions that humans do, I don't buy this excuse at all.

Others say it just goes to show that Deckard is an imperfect character. I think that's probably what Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford were going for. Everyone appreciates a flawed protagonist; it humanizes them. But there's a difference between "protagonist is kind of a jerk who just wants to do the right thing" and "protagonist is a rapist who just wants to do the right thing."

It reminds me of all the controversy surrounding Woody Allen right now. He might be a child molester, but he's such a witty guy! People want to ignore sexual abuse charges because he's made so many good movies. Does Blade Runner get the same pass? He might've raped the female lead, but the movie is such a cultural touchstone that everyone sort of forgets about it.

Apparently Harrison Ford and Sean Young never clicked during production of the film, and the scene was incredibly rough to shoot. Sean Young said she had to take a few weeks off after shooting the scene because she had so many bruises.

But in a recent interview about sex in movies, Young seems to have a more positive view on Blade Runner. She says a sex scene in a movie is good when the woman looks happy, and that's why it worked for her in No Way Out and in Blade Runner. Huh? I've re-watched the sex scene a few times now, and her character seems to be closer to sobbing than to smiling.

If the actress who was actually involved in the scene in question has no problem with it now, are my complaints unwarranted? I still want to fast-forward through it every time I watch Blade Runner. What do you think?


  1. ""I've re-watched the sex scene a few times now, and her character seems to be closer to sobbing than to smiling.""

    I think that maybe she was smiling and the director got at her for that, and so she frowned and the director got at her for that... wanted it to be more on the sad side than the happy side.

    I think that you are completely right on everything, sometimes they put in scary scenes (especially on todays American TV) and people try to rationalize it to make them feel good about watching it. I read a highest rated comment on youtube basically saying "her emotions wanted him & her body couldnt stop fighting it". Its sickening to see that kind of context and so much support for it, but I bet people like judges hear this all of the time before making their ruling to imprisoning them.

  2. Matthias Smed LarsenJuly 28, 2014 at 3:50 PM

    I just watched Blade Runner for the first time and honestly I was appealed that this scene didn't get more criticism, I think all of the excuses people come up with the justify the scene are complete bs, and honestly I didn't get the impression that there was any chemistry between Rachel and Deckard in the first place so the whole thing was pretty messed up in my opinion.

  3. Matthias Smed LarsenJuly 28, 2014 at 3:51 PM


  4. Why would it get criticism? Movies don't exist to fit your politically correct world view, they tell a story. Sometimes that story is about messed up people who don't always act according to your morals.

  5. I just watched the movie for the first time, and at this scene, at first, I wondered what was going on, thinking about rape as well. But I think, Sean Young played that part really well in making me believe that she wanted to be persuaded at that moment. Either Rachael didn't allow herself to get lucky initially, now knowing she's a replicant, or she wanted Deckard to do exactly what he did - to show her he really wanted her. And her facial expression and weeping could very well be interpreted as signs of relief. Also, the background music stayed smooth thoughout the scene, so, I was convinced everything's okay.

  6. Yeah, I raised an eyebrow at that scene as well (watched it for the first time recently too). I was like, "Wait...did he just rape her? Was it INTENDED to be filmed like that?" Apparently it was.

    I'm guessing it's just 80s values dissonance; people back then probably didn't see that as rape, and more like "ravishing". I did read someone suggesting an alternative interpretation that it was just, like, some dominant/submissive relationship shit, but nothing implies that in the film, and it has even MORE negative implications that this vulnerable woman who's just found out she's not even organically human now must play the role of the broken virgin who needs a man to... and now I'm starting to get into some big feminist deconstruction.

    Anyway, I strongly doubt that Scott intended to direct this scene as 'rape' (although he might've developed different opinions on it since then), especially when his films are known for portraying strong female protagonists (e.g. the iconic Ripley in the 'Alien' series). I guess Deckard is just the villain protagonist (like Light from the anime 'Death Note'), while Roy is the hero antagonist (like L from the same anime), 'cos the story obviously weighs heavily on the side of the replicants being sympathetic characters with one of humanity's most primitive fears: death (for Roy especially, since he just flat-out dies in front of Deckard, instead of being killed or wounded, 'cos his lifespan just ran out).

  7. You don't understand the movie. The character of Rachel has just found out she is a replicant. That everything she knew was a lie and her life was artificial. She is something that society treats with contempt. Deckard throughout the film battles with his feelings toward those he is employed to kill. The tension in the scene is Deckard breaking a social taboo and giving in to his attraction and feelings. At this point he knows Rachel is a replicant and he knows that she is going to die soon. She also knows that it is wrong and that she will die. They both need something at that moment. Rachel to feel real, to feel alive. Deckard to pay for all the killing of Rachels kind by falling in love with her even though she is dying. Deckard and Rachel start a doomed love affair. Theres alot going on in the scene. Anger towards society, anger towards death and love. Its also about how sex is a huge part of what make us alive.

  8. white_day_black_riverApril 5, 2015 at 9:53 AM

    It's both hopeful and deeply scary that a lot of "sex scenes" from older films are now being recognised (correctly, I believe) as rape scenes. I don't know if this suggests that people have gotten better at watching films (i.e. less easily manipulated by emotional cues like the score so they can actually process the real content of a scene), that the definition of rape has developed and changed over the last tend years, that people were afraid to label these scenes as "rape" back in the past... or some different reason. It makes one wonder how many rapes were committed in the past by men who didn't see themselves as rapists upon women who did not realise that they were rape victims. Less serious is the question of whether actors like Harrison Ford recognised that they were playing a rape scene.

    Scenes that come to my mind are:

    *obviously massive trigger warnings for depictions of rape*

    James Bond assaulting Pussy Galore:

    The pool house scene in 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High':

    or on TV

    Don Draper assaulting / raping Bobbie in 'Mad Men' (oddly I've hardly ever seen Don called a rapist, but a lot of focus has been put on the fact that he is a rape victim):

    or... well lots of scenes in HBO's 'Girls'

    IDK I could probably think of a lot more examples (especially from older films). I'd hope that there were some scenes which everyone understood depicted rape back in the 60s / 70s, though... like the rape scene in 'Marnie', for instance.

    A grip and triggering topic, but cognitive dissonance is always very revealing about a culture.

  9. Actually people's defense of this scene being rape is very in keeping with why so many people don't understand rape, or know when it's happened. People shrug off her clearly not wanting to have sex as passion or confusion and let me tell you women are just as human as men and if they don't want to have sex, and it looks like they don't want to have it, then they don't. Their feelings are just as legitimate as everyone else and whilst people understand that rape is horrible they try to find ways to make it sex and not rape so they feel better but sorry this very much looks like it lead to rape.
    Though I also think there are bigger implications about sex, rape, and women as sex objects in this film too because of this scene. She's just found out she's a replicant and to her, in the world she lives in, they are not seen as or treated as human. Replicants in that world are also used for sex as much as women are, maybe more, and for the same reasons women are used in our world for sex: dehumanisation. If they are replicants then paying them for sex etc is literally using a product rather than a human. Therefore, in all her confusion and her thinking Deckard is human, then when he tells her to kiss him and so on then to her she has to comply. She hasn't had the time to ponder how human she is or any of that and if to her replicants are inhuman objects then who is she to say no?

  10. It is not rape. It is an exploration of Rachel's refusal to accept her individuality/freedom from the "slavery" of being a replicant. Her choice to remain in Deckard's apartment and be loved for who she IS is a turning point for her character. This dark underside is necessary to bring into focus the limitless interpretations as to what we consider "human".

  11. In the story by Philip K. Dick this rape also occurs and she calls it rape, although she is even forced to respond as if aroused because she is programmed to. It's jarring and out of any value for the story. It's nothing but sexual aggression of the protagonist, justified by his wife not being interested in him.

  12. It's rape. In the original story she calls it rape. Rape is when someone has sex with someone against their will. You cannot rape someone to freedom. That doesn't even make sense.

  13. white_day_black_riverMay 16, 2015 at 2:23 PM

    Why 'V for Vendetta' especially in graphic novel form is so troubling.

  14. Good call. Troubling is that the fandom sees V as a hero, for me the Stockholm syndrome and brainwashing was pretty appalling and made me think about means justifying ends. Do I recall that as more ambiguous than it was?
    Heck, it's an awesome tool - give the comic to someone and see their reaction. If they completely agree with V's methods, take your book and run. :D

  15. white_day_black_riverMay 17, 2015 at 4:38 AM

    It's very hard to tell... I mean, in the graphic novel it's clear that Moore is doing something different to 'Watchmen' ('V' isn't framed as despicable in the way the Comedian is, or unhinged in the way that Rorschach is) but at the same time I think the fact that some of V's behaviour leaves the reader feeling anxious or troubled seems deliberate. I honestly don't know.

    Here's an article that 100% disagrees with the politics though:

  16. Forcing modern black and white parameters of “against their
    will” on this scene misses what Scott was able to achieve with Blade Runner. Deckard does not dominate her as that is
    physically impossible (Rachel's about 10x stronger than he). Deckard initiates her
    into the sexual relationship that she is heavily doubting. She is doubting her ability to be desired in
    that capacity as she is a replicant.
    Notice how her character changed after that night; she gained confidence and clarity about her identity,
    and sees herself as a person. That would NOT happen after a "rape".

    Have some fun and think outside the box about this scene. Blade Runner is an excellent film.

  17. Finally. Thank you Andy.


    Peter Frost thinks it's rape too.

    Btw, art is not about proper behavior. It is about trying to understand emotions and behaviors that follow their own logic.

    And there are unspoken emotions between man and woman that doesn't always play by politically correct or morally correct rules.

    Is the scene emotionally truthful? Could a man and woman connect like that? Yes.

    Also, if you wanna nitpick, BLADE RUNNER is filled with people doing morally questionable things.

    Consider how Batty and Pris used Sebastian and then killed him.

    Consider how Roy was pressured to take the assignment.

    Consider how Roy tortures Deckard mercilessly.

    Consider how Roy and Leon torment Chu before killing him.

    Those things that sometimes involve murder doesn't disturb you?

  19. She sees him lying on his bed, and a romantic sax theme starts. She starts playing the piano, which merges with the sax theme. She opens her hair, she does everything she thinks wold work to seduce him. As he joins her, she talks about memories (a recurring theme – memories are how replicants are controlled). As he tries to kiss her, she is visibly confused. She tries to flee because of her confusion. Later, after Deckard throws her against the wall, and tells her to kiss him, she doesn't say "no" or anything, she says "I can't rely on memories", meaning she hasn't been programmed to love (or kiss). He tells her what to do, and she becomes more human through that experience.

    Deckard uses whatever means he has available. If he is a replicant, he
    has been programmed to brutally kill. This might make the scene look
    like rape, but, as you can see, it isn't.

  20. it seems to me that the scene is not a rape scene at all. the purpose of the scene is to show taht rachel is torn apart. at this moment the character of rachel becomes weak because she realizes all her memories are fake. then how can she rely on her desire for Deckard? But it's obvious that she desires him for SHE goes at his home. SHE follows him and the saves him from deat by killing Leon. Then she goes back home with him once more. So the thing is blatant. But for some reasons the has a ''typical female'' attitude of weakness/doubt/provocation. And Deckard has to act to say ''Game is over''. But Most of all by dictating her to say kiss me-i want you, he pushes her to assume her desires and tells her " your memories are fake but your desires are real, you are real and your desire is what makes you a person''. And in the end she tells him BY HERSELF : ''Put your hands on me'' which means that she admits her desire and is ready to fullfil it. IT'S NOT A RAPE. IT'S HUMAN FEMALE COMPLEXITY.